The plight of a Makerere University pensioner

Sunday October 10 2021
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Through the times. Prof. Oweyegha-Afunaduula with his family. PHOTO/Courtesy/File.

By Joan Salmon

“Do not forget your friends or your father’s friends. If you are in trouble, don’t ask a relative for help; a neighbour nearby can help you more than relatives who are far away (Proverbs, 27: 10),” his Facebook post read in part. It was partly to relay his gratitude to those that have stood with and by him thus far but also to tell of his plight.

Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a retired senior lecturer from the faculty of Science at Makerere University, after 18 years retired. He hoped for prompt payment of his retirement benefits and eagerly looked forward to a long productive post-retirement life where he would complete his house as well as engage in income-generating activities such as beekeeping, vegetable growing, and tree planting, using his benefits. While he hung up the gloves in 2009, he has waited for 12 years to get his pension.
“I also expected to have quality life and afford quality education for my latter children and grandchildren. However, that was never to be, thus I used other sources of income to build a house, establish an analogue forest and start a beekeeping enterprise,” he narrates.

When he retired, the professor went into the NGO world; from 2008-2010, he was the chairperson at Nile Basin Discourse, worked at National Associational for Professionals Environmentalists (NAPE) and worked as the principle for the now defunct Crane Media institute, a position he held until 2014. With those jobs, even when Makerere had not yet given him his pension, he was shielded and comfortable. 
However, at this point, he desired to channel his already spent energy to something personal. It was here that his pension would have come in handy to help him further his projects such as the bee-keeping venture. 

“I had started the bee keeping project in Nawaka, Luuka District with 22 hives and had been promised help by the Netherlands’ Government if the project got a little bigger. Unfortunately, that was never realised because besides failure to expand, there were loses as 10 of my hives were stolen. Had I had funds, I would have fenced off the land and saved the little I had,” he shares.
Depending on his salary to build his house, Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula had to take on extra teaching assignments such as teaching environmental management to make the structure liveable. However, 20 years since he started the construction, it is yet to be completed.
While talking about the several retirement schemes the university has had, he is saddened and angered by how the money was misappropriated. 

“There was a transfer of money to NIC from NSSF because that was where we were paying, initially. Then there was a non-contributory scheme, which was mismanaged, and at this point, the academic staff saw it fit to start a scheme of their own; Makerere University Retirement Benefits Scheme (MURBS) to safeguard their money. While the scheme seemed safe, and the staff was sure they would get their package, many of us are still waiting because the money comes from government and if they say there is no money, the university cannot transfer money to the scheme,” he says in a disturbed tone.

Upon retirement, the professor got some money transferred from NSSF to NIC in 2010 (does not remember exact details though it came in two instalments) but there was more with MURBS, and on inquiring, he was told he is meant to receive Shs64,123,664, though Government has not released all the money to the university. “It is very painful at 72, after working with honesty and integrity, to live like a pauper when you have some money that could help you meet post-retirement challenges, especially health, but you cannot access it because Government is withholding it without explanation,” he laments.

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Valuing friendship
Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula cringes at the fact that he has become more dependent in his later years, not being able to meet all his health needs or those of his family members. Nonetheless, in all this, he is thankful to his long-time friends; Prof. Wasswa Balunywa, Prof Davis Bagambiire- Namiti (Canada), Dr. Charles Kawagga (London) and Mr Sabasi Ngobi who have stood by him all the way, even when he was wedding my wife at 66 years in 2016. 

“Earlier this year, they also helped me when I underwent a haemorrhoid operation which was an expensive venture, not forgetting the cataracts operation which cost close to Shs5m with spectacles included. Today, I am threatened by prostate expansion, which may become cancerous, but I do not have the money to undergo the extremely expensive operation in India or elsewhere. On the other hand, government has held up my money, so the scheme has nothing to give me yet I need it. Not many of my colleagues were able to survive without their pensions as most passed on in the first five years of their retirement because of the stress arising from denial of access to their pensions,” he shares the agony. He adds that he better understands the value of friends and the need to stick with them because it is these that will come through when all else let go. “I have been friends with some since 1966 and it is important that we have kept the bond,” he smiles.
Why bits?

Professor says, an old man like him, would surely want to get his payment as lump sum, rather than bits so that he enjoys it. “You never know when the Creator will call me home so I need this money in one bunch so that I make good of it. Therefore, if government has decided to give us 27 per cent of the money this year, which at first was at 9 per cent until we complained, let them give us the balance next year; if we will be alive anyway. Whom are you keeping my money for? If I have anything to do for my children, let me do it now lest they say I left the world without leaving them an inheritance. Do not keep my money for years, in the name of helping me, how are you helping me? We sacrificed enough during our active years, we cannot continue sacrificing,” he said angrily.

Saving procedure
Dr Davis Malowa, Director Human resource, Makerere University, says apart from having the Makerere Retirements Benefits Scheme, finance gave them a waiver to allow some staff members be part of NSSF. “Staff must choose and inform the university where their benefits must be sent. The arrangement is that government, the payer of the salaries contributes 10 per cent while staff pay 5 per cent, a deduction done every time salaries are remitted. Therefore, we do not have arrears and backlog where we would say that we skipped a month. The remittance, even on the side of government is mandatory, failure leads to the university being sued, and penalties paid. For instance, if by 15th of the next month remittance is not done, rather than paying out 10 per cent, the penalty will attract another 5 per cent,” he shares about the workings of the scheme. 

Accessing funds
In regards to accessing their benefits, Dr Malowa says ideally, this process should not take long because MURBS is a contributory scheme, unlike the main public service scheme where everything comes from government. “Once one retires; 60 years, they write to the human resource indicating that they have since retired (indicate the date). Thereafter, the HR will write a letter introducing them to the scheme where they were contributing so they can get their benefits,” he explains about the process. 

Having joined the office only in June this year, he says he is not that competent to comment the complaints raised by Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula and Dr Lubanga but agrees that there was a problem 10 years back. “That is why we are getting cases of people who retired back then with unpaid remittances. We are deeply sorry for the inconveniences these delays have caused and agree that there were errors made in the past for which the university has taken responsibility and settling them accordingly with the help of government. Complaints are addressed on case-by-case basis and as money comes, we clear them up so it is an ongoing process. However, going forward, for those who retired from the last five years, there are no challenges,” he shares. Dr Malowa also urges affected persons who have these arrears computed on paper to go to the HR office for guidance.

History of the retirement schemes
Wilbur Naigambi, Secretary of MURBS says the issue of unpaid benefits affects 2178 staff members and the issues date beyond July 2009 when the scheme was started. “At inception, the retirement benefits scheme was promised Shs51bn. However, the available cash was Shs25bn given in July 2010 and this was what the university had been banking in Standard Chartered Bank on behalf of the staff members (10 percent from government and 5 per cent from the staff members). The Shs26bn was debt (promise) from the university after they acknowledged that it belonged to the scheme though not readily available.
The money was promised because part of it was in form of a pension fund where the employer declares what they have in their retirement benefits pool inasmuch as it is not readily available. Ideally, it would have been set apart but at that time, the retirement benefits sector was not that strong to advocate for safekeeping. This is money that was meant to be in the non-contributory scheme- defined benefits – calculated using actuarial benefits,” he clarifies.

Yusuf Kiranda, the university secretary adds that though phased out in 2009, the in-house retirement benefits scheme (IHRBS), a non-contributory pension fund was a university initiative to avail its retired staff with a retirement package. “As it was winding up, the staff received some of the money although the rest was unavailable. Being non-contributory, the money was not readily there. It is this, that Dr Rosalind Lubanga, Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula and several others demand,” he shares.
Naigambi says the other component of the debt was money with National Insurance Corporation (NIC), which was being privatised. “The money in their accounts was paid out and shared among the staff members,” he says.

The scheme secretary says the defined benefits pool had several issues such as who the beneficiaries were and how much each was entitled to, something the university took long to establish, only doing so after MURBS went to court. Then in 2018, the university hired an actuarial consultant who went through the formulas that the university council had used to calculate everyone’s package. When the amount was established, as well as the beneficiaries, the court made a ruling (the first ruling was in 2016 and the final one in 2019), that the retirement benefits scheme become an autonomous body where all issues regarding these benefits were put under MURBS so the university could not continue to pay out in-house benefits. The court also ruled that since that money was due in 2009, it had accrued interest thus the total fund was Shs23.9bn- seeing that some of it had been paid off,” he continues to explain.

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After 2019, Naigambi says the scheme moved to the university to enforce the ruling and after a lot of haggling because the institution said it did not have the money and needed government to bail them out, in March 2020, Ministry of Finance, on behalf of government undertook to pay the money on behalf of the university. “An agreement was entered into with the Minister of Finance, Makerere University and MURBS where government promised to pay the money within five years. On May 24, 2020, government released the first instalment (Shs5bn- 19 per cent) of the Shs23bn, which was upped to Shs25bn during the consent judgement with the ministry owing to the accrued interest at 7 per cent per annum (from 2019 during the court judgement). Another installment (Shs2B) was released on July 13, 2020,” he adds.

Of the 2178, Naigambi says 1200 employees had retired and these are alerted through various media platforms whenever government remits money. “Then they apply through the normal procedure and get the money. The rest (who are still in employment) do not get their money directly but it is kept on the accounts that MURBS has with them. That way, they also get their money rather than wait for when they have retired,” he explains.

However, the scheme is continually urging the university, even if government committed to pay over five years, to expedite the process because the beneficiaries are old, some battling with diseases thus continuous journeys are cumbersome. The other issue is that some cannot access newspapers where the announcement is made. “Unfortunately, the laws governing retirement benefits schemes do not allow for remitting that money until has been received by the scheme. Otherwise, it would mean that we get other people’s money and pay them, which would attract lawsuits. We are only a transit for people’s money thus awaiting government to release these funds. On the other hand, Government says the times are not good so they can only do so much. However, we have hope that when the situation improves, the government will be able to see the plight of these people,” Naigambi shares.
 

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